This is a question that has been debated over the centuries and although it should not matter whether Shakespeare was a Catholic sympathiser or a 'secret' catholic the debate rages on and is likely to for ever more. I believe it is very possible that he was. Many influential families that he associated with, were. His father was likely to have been with evidence suggesting this. Some 'experts' believe there are 'hidden' Catholic references in his work.
If our portrait is Shakespeare, then those that argue that he was Catholic, will I suspect welcome our theories regarding symbols on the portrait & those that disagree may have other ideas. .
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Elizabethan portraiture was full of 'hidden' symbols, during turbulent times of religion and miss-trust. Such symbols could have been used to indicate a sitters views on religion or politics. Portraits of Elizabeth 1 were full of such symbols, subtly demonstrating her power as 'all seeing and hearing' leaving her subjects in no doubt that she new what was going on, so beware!
We Believe the Wadlow Portrait has some hidden symbolism & we are researching this possibility and their meaning. We welcome ideas & comments on such, indeed you may see some we have missed !
Is This William Shakespeare © 2013
Six Point Star
The beautiful & accurately executed Lace Collar has incorporated into it 26 star patterns. All but one are four point stars, including the one bottom (viewers) left. But the star shape bottom (viewers) right, in the corner is a SIX POINT STAR ! I believe that it is unlikely that this was an error, the Collar work has been rendered with too much care for such an error and thus I believe that this is a 'hidden' symbol. The Six point star is a well used symbol for various religious, astrological & occult causes and so it would be difficult to pinpoint the meaning here. However, when put with the other symbols (detailed below), I believe it could be reasonably considered as a Catholic symbol. This is to greater subject to go into detail here, but although the 'Star of David' is of course recognised as a Jewish symbol, it is also used in many Catholic places of worship world wide and is also known as 'Mary's Star' and many Catholics see it as a symbol of The Virgin Mary. Add this to the possible Dragonfly Catholic connection and we may have a theme.
A Quincunx is a five dot pattern, in the same pattern as that seen on a dice. This pattern has been repeated on the Doublet (see circled in red above). This could be just a pattern, or if tied in with the dragonfly & Six point star it could also be a Catholic symbol; This design (reports suggest) was built into the walls of 'secret' catholic meeting houses in the Midlands and depicts the 'Five wounds of Christ'. It is believed to have been used as a symbol on the banners of the Pilgrimage of Grace protests in 1536. These were a group of religious insurgents protesting about the dissolution of the monasteries. Although some years prior to Shakespeare's birth, he would surely have been aware of these protests, some historians believe he served as a 'schoolmaster' in Lancashire (where the uprising was concentrated) for Alexander Houghton whose family had connections with the uprising. Many believe that Shakespeare lived among 'Lancastrian Catholics' for a period.
Cross of Saint John
Above the six point star on the collar (see image above right, circled in yellow) at the end of the collar design there are three protruding oval type patterns, these are separate on all except at this point where they are joined. We are currently investigating this point and carrying out various optical tests. We are not sure of the relevance as often people can see things where they are not, however, after posting about the symbols mentioned above on our Facebook page, one follower commented that he could see a 'Templar' cross at that point. I could not immediately see it, but when viewing from a distance (zooming out) or 'blurring' slightly, he is correct and the pattern forms a cross. This is particularly interesting, as it is positioned above the Six point Star (Mary's Star). If the cross is indeed deliberate, it could be the Cross of Saint John and so we have John above Mary. John and Mary are Shakespeare's parents, as well as their Catholic possible meaning. This last 'symbol' is I accept rather tenuous, but worthy of further research.
The image above shows the collar ties in a bow. Collar ties are not unusual, but as Jenny Tiramani (a leading expert in costume of the period) pointed out, it is unusual to have the ties poking through the button hole, rather than freely hanging.
It has been pointed out by many observers that the bow resembles a Dragonfly! Certainly the ties poking through the button holes, enhances the illusion of a Dragonfly in 'free flight'. Our research into Dragonfly symbols continues and there are many interpretations worldwide, We are particularly interested in the relevance of such in Shakespeare's times. The Dragonfly is recognised as a symbol of 'rebirth' and change. It is also connected to life after death and may also be considered as a religious symbol, possibly Catholic.
Simon Stirling, author of Who Killed William Shakespeare & Shakespeare's Bastard, who has been studying Shakespeare's portraiture for many years, has another idea. He believes that the Dragonfly here, could be an indication as to how Shakespeare died. The Dragonfly is also known as 'The devils darning needle' or poniard and he believes this could be a clue as to how The Bard died. You can read Simon's theories in his articles on the Historical Honey website. Here is the link http://historicalhoney.com/exclusive-shakespeare-dragonfly/ and also here, in his peer reviewed paper for Goldsmiths University of London http://www.gold.ac.uk/glits-e/glits-e2013-2014/the-faces-of-shakespeare-revealing-shakespeares-/
There is a potential problem with Simon's theory, if he is correct, it would suggest that the portrait was painted posthumously, but as we shall explain on technical page, we believe the portrait was painted from life. However as the x-ray image below shows, it is possible that the Collar may have been added later and as such the Dragonfly would also have been added later, this may explain the low neck line of the collar, which again is unusual. We believe that it is possible that the original Life portrait may not have included the collar (x ray does not rule this out) and the sitter may have just had a low neck doublet, in line with other 'Author' portraits like John Donne and Nathan Field. This may also explain the contradictions of dates that we have had from experts ranging from 1595 (as quoted by very respected experts) to 1610 (based on the Collar, by some others).
Jenny Tiramani's date estimate is 1600-1610, but she pointed out that it would not be inconceivable for it to be earlier.